Bernice Rathe by Bea Giovanni by Bea Giovanni - Read Online

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Bernice Rathe - Bea Giovanni

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To my readers, this book has definitely been a journey. This fictional novel is a first for me.

I started writing this book in 2013. But, I decided to scrap it. I was hesitant in writing a novel, since I have written scholarly articles which are far removed from the fictional genre. After encouragement from friends and family, however, I decided to revive this idea and write.

In writing this novel, it became a surprisingly fun process. I have found fictional writing is far more loose and open to deviating from the traditional grammatical conventions and scholarly voice. The process allowed a different point of view and voice and I absolutely loved it.

Admittedly, this process has also been extremely healing for me. I took this opportunity to write this novel for fun and as a narrative healing process. I hope that the themes, issues, events and characters in this novel help to draw attention to how real life issues and situations impact us all and how we can help make this world a better place.

Introduction: Early Life at a Glance

The scene opens on a sunny day, with a female with sun shades driving a futuristic sports vehicle with a personalized plate titled ABOSBTCH (short for a boss b!*ch), and music blasting (with Kelis ‘Bossy’ playing loudly). The female stops at a stop light to look over at the driver in the other vehicle and whispers ‘like a boss’ and nods away.

I could not believe how I got here, but I did. How did I get to be a boss and have such a fun and lavish life? I guess I need to go back in time to explain.

The year was 1978, gas was 65 cents a gallon, the first mobile phone system was introduced, and the average income was $10,000. Scratch that, I really did not need to provide that detail but I thought it would be cool and interesting to say the least. Anyway, I was born Bernice Giovana Rathe to a single, unwed mother in Macon, Georgia, my grandmother (or grandma, as I would like to say it) raised me until age 3 or 4.

My mother (or mama, as some in the south say it) gave birth to me in her last year of college. Oddly, my mama wanted to be a nun but settled on being a social worker, as she could do more good in social work. If she became a nun, I probably wouldn’t been born.

Later in life, I wished she would have become a nun. Let’s say I hate my life and I do not know why anyone would bring a child into this messed up world.

I digress. As I was saying, my mama gave birth to me in her senior year in college. After my mama graduated, my grandma continued to care for me while my mama searched for a job all over the state.

My father was never around (actually, I didn’t know him or of him). He actually denied I was his child. In fact, my birth certificate states blank for the father.

I did not grew up in the typical family. I did not come from a wealth of money, power or influence. While I would love to say I did, I did not grow up in that type of environment (you know like a Let it to Beaver type of family).

My upbringings, however, are humble; I can say with pride that I earned everything given to me.

My family composition is interesting. My grandma was part Native American and African American. My mother’s father was part Caucasian and African American. I had five uncles; my mother was the only female out of her mother’s children. (My mama had a different father than my five uncles.) My grandma sent all her children to Catholic school (while also attending Methodist, Baptist and Catholic Churches on a regular basis). A Catholic school education was the best education at that time (and still today).

I hung out with my five uncles a lot, as my mother had me in her last year in college and was still completing her degree. Plus, my grandma and grandpa (the father of my 5 uncles and the grandfather I knew all my life) worked during the day and my great-grandma (i.e., my grandma’s mama) was old in age.

We didn’t know the exact age of my great-grandmother due to the lack of birth records, impacted by war and slavery during her time. So our family estimated her age at that time to be 89. We do know that she was part Native American and her family like my great-grandfather’s family were sharecroppers and former slaves.

We do not know what Native American tribe my great-grandma belonged to, since she was not made aware of the registration during her time. They didn’t want very many freed slaves, who were Native American, to claim land. So, there was a short window to claim Native American heritage via registering and get this, you had to read and write.

For the average freed slave, you most likely would not have heard about this registration and could not read or write to recognize the information. But, again, we didn’t know really all that happened during that time.

[I would hear old folk tales growing up such as my great grandma had a veil over her head at birth, she had gifts and that my grandma had a veil over her head at birth too. I did not know what that meant, and my mama always discounted that stuff. My mama would say it was not true and not to believe in it.]

Despite neither having a lot nor having my father in my life, my childhood would become a happy one. My family did the best they could for all of us. I have fond memories as a child, i.e., fishing, traveling, holidays, toys, friends, family, etc.

My family ate together a lot, and my grandma cooked big meals. She perfected the art of big meals. She cooked foods that she could easily stretch.

For instance, spaghetti was one of them. My grandma cooked spaghetti so much I think my uncles got so tired of spaghetti, but I didn’t. My grandma cooked the best spaghetti. She made chili spaghetti, chicken spaghetti, turkey spaghetti (I think you get the picture).

Because I came from a large family, if you blinked or forgot about your food, it was gone. You had to take your first and second portions at one time. If not, the food was gone with no seconds.

Mealtime was somewhat funny because I had one uncle who would say, Look at that bird in the window (or something like that). I would look and my meat would be missing from my plate. My uncle would be eating the piece of meat.

My grandma was really the sole breadwinner of the family, as my grandpa was an alcoholic who used his money for liquor. My grandpa would even steal my grandma’s money to buy liquor. Regardless, we loved him, each in our own way; he was still a good person. Most of us were able to discern that certain things were unhealthy and not repeat those cycles (I couldn’t say this about my father and his family as they never learned to identify and stop unhealthy cycles).

As I stated before, my grandma was the sole breadwinner; she was a very strong woman. She had to be with six children and an alcoholic husband. My grandma was popular and sociable and involved in local politics and other activities.

You could say my grandma was a trailblazer as well. She was the first of woman of color hired with the local court system. She was also frequently in the society pages of the newspaper.

I also recall sitting on the front porch with my great grandma eating ginger snaps. She loved gingersnaps and so did I. I snuck gingersnaps from her bag and she knew before I did it (it was funny at times). I also recall she gave me honey and milk to help me go to sleep at night. I loved honey and milk.

No one ever sat and talked with my great grandma because they thought she was senile. But, they were wrong. We would talk about everything. We even had a game we played. The game required you to guess the color and make of the car that passed by before it came.

My great grandma would be amazed that I guessed the right color and sometimes the make of the car. I got better each time. She told me I had a gift and to use it wisely. She also stated to me to make our family proud and that I will be a great person one day. I never understood what she meant until I became an adult. Sadly, when I was 4 years old, she died.

A strange thing would happen after that: I began having dreams of my great grandma. I also began having dreams similar to déjà vu. I had dreams where events would later happen and I caught on fast as to what the dream meant. As time went on, my dreams helped me better interpret the meanings and events in advance.

Sometimes, I did not have to be asleep to get these visions. It would appear to me like a TV (the receiver and broadcaster). I would tell my mama that these things would occur. My mama took me to a doctor and counselor and both results showed a normal and wild imaginative child.

Despite this, I would tell my mama the things I dreamed and these things came true like déjà vu. From there, my mama and her family told me to say nothing and to keep my mouth shut (to turn it off so to speak), as it was a chance it would come true. Oddly, I started to get personal mail on metaphysics, chakras and related stuff, which my mama would throw away.

My mama told me to imagine other things and it will go away. Well, for a long time, it did go away. My mama attributed this to being around my grandparents’ arguments and my grandpa’s alcoholism, and acting out and looking for attention. I did not understand any of it, but I did know that the dreams were not mere coincidence and I was not acting out looking for attention. I did not look at the dreams as a gift or something special but the direct opposite (like a curse).

But, I was the not the average child either. When I was about 5 years of age, I was somewhat popular, as I danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and I was so good that I had local gigs where I was paid. It was exciting and fun, since I was on stage dancing in front of hundreds of people who paid me to entertain them.

My mama saved the money to pay for my school clothes and other things I needed. But, most times, I didn’t want the money, as I was a bit modest. But, at the time, I did not know anything about money.

Yet, I digress. I was a bit off track reminiscing about my early years. As mentioned before, my grandma’s home was not a ‘milk and cookies’ home. But, you could tell my grandpa and grandma loved each other. My grandpa was a functional alcoholic (if you call it that).

My grandma and grandpa would argue a lot and fought each other. I recall my grandpa always sitting outside on the porch drinking with his neighborhood friends. My grandma would tell me to go to bed so that I would not see any of it, but I always heard my grandpa and his friends outside talking, drinking, and doing what people do when they drink and socialize. Despite my grandpa’s shortcomings, he loved my grandma. It goes without saying that my grandma loved him too.

Getting back to my point, after my mama graduated with her bachelor’s degree and found a job as a social worker, I moved with my mama at age four to Atlanta, Georgia. My mama had met my step dad (a fisherman), she later married him and gave birth to my little sister and later my little brother. I always believed my step dad was my father; no one told me different. It was not until my mama and step dad divorced that my family informed me he was not my father.

Boy, I took that hard. My mama had me go to counseling; it proved to be helpful because I had an avenue to vent where I could say the things I couldn’t tell my mama and step dad; the counselor saw me as a normal child adjusting to divorce, which is not easy for any child. Later in life, I recalled this counseling helped develop and identify healthy relationships and people, i.e., how to navigate through life and form good relations with people. (My mama, being a social worker, taught me there is no stigma around counseling, as it was healthy to go, and you do not have to be diagnosed or have mental issues to go.)

The divorce appeared to be my step dad’s fault. He cheated on my mama. I recalled someone calling my mama and telling her, they spotted my step dad and a woman in his truck at his friend’s house. My mama got my siblings and me out of the bed (it had to be approximately 3 am in the morning). She drove to my step dad’s friend’s house, my step dad and some woman were sitting in his truck and my mama got out the car, pulled out a jack knife from the trunk and shattered his window. This was decades before Jazmine Sullivan’s Bust Your Windows Out Your Car song.

Yes, women were busting windows back then too. People sat around and looked at what happened and walked away. They figured my step dad must have done something to make my mama mad. No cops were called, just pure emotion involved.

I digress. Back to my story: After my mama busted my step dad’s truck windows, my sister and brother began crying and I began yelling to my mama, mama stop, don’t hurt my daddy! I did not understand at the time all that went on between my mama and step dad.

Prior to that incident, I recalled my mama received numerous calls to our home with recordings on the answering machine with a female stating my step dad and her were together (appearing to taunt my mama). We would get recordings of the song, ‘The Thrill is Gone." After growing up and experiencing life, I recalled the song and discovered it was a blues song. I guess the female tried sending it as a message to my mama. We later learned the name of this female after my mama got caller id. Her name was Betty.

Shortly after this busted window incident, my step dad moved out our home. He would come around every blue moon or so, and he would promise my sister a pony (a real pony). Guess what? The pony never came.

One day he came to the house and acted erratic. My mama told him to leave and stop making promises he can’t keep, since he made lots of promises to me and my siblings and it disappointed us. My mama and step dad then fought in the bedroom. You couldn’t mistake the sounds of stuff shattering and yelling. I took my brother and sister and we hid in the corner with the door locked.

My intuition kicked in. I feared my step dad would harm us because of his strange and erratic behavior. This feeling was deep down in your stomach. He later left and I checked on my mama to make sure he did not injure her. I called out for her and she said everything was fine. I asked her if she wanted me to call my grandma or someone. She said no.

Weeks went by, no one heard from my step dad. It was not until months later where he came to our home and he wanted to take us for a ride. My mama became suspicious and hesitant and made us stay in the house and not go outside with him.

Well, my step dad ripped the screen door away from my mama’s hand causing her hand to bleed. Then, he pulled us out of the house into his truck and made us go with him.

I never saw my mama so scared. I did not understand the reason behind her fear until afterwards. She was thinking my step dad would kill us, since he had mentioned things like that in the past to her (as I was unaware of and rightfully so as a child I should not know these things).

Being the oldest and smart, I took account of the streets and businesses as we traveled with my father. I do not know why I was able to understand to do this, but I took account of these things while my step dad drove us around.

Once we approached his friend’s home, I told his friend what my step dad did. An hour later, my step dad returned us to my mama. One of my mama’s friends came to our home and started to report this incident to authorities.

Later, I learned my step dad’s friend contacted my mama and notified her of our whereabouts. Granted my mama and step dad were in a heated situation, my mama told me never let us go with my step dad again under any condition; her and her friend explained my step dad made threats in the past.

My mama did acknowledge I did the right thing in telling someone what happened. This may have saved my siblings and me from harm, since someone knew. My mama always told me to tell someone if you are in danger or if something is not right. I always kept that with me.

My siblings did not understand what happened at that time. Today, they don’t even remember what happened but I did.

My mama, being a religious and traditional person raised us in the Catholic Church (because my mama went to Catholic School going up and continued into her adulthood), knew she needed to divorce my step dad but could not. Being a Catholic at that time, the church did not support the idea of divorce. However, it got so bad in her marriage to my step dad that my mama converted to the Baptist religion in order to get a divorce. So, we attended Baptist church and she raised us in the Baptist church as well.

So, in terms of my religious upbringing, diverse would be the word to describe it. Baptized at birth in the Methodist church yet raised Catholic, I then converted to Baptist because my mama converted to the Baptist religion, where I was then baptized at age 11. As a child in the summers, I would go to my grandma’s AME Church (Methodist) when we visited my grandma for the entire summer.

So, I had a lot of religion in my life. I learned many things from religion, such as people are human and make mistakes. And no matter what God you worship, make sure the God and what you worship is a positive belief system that does not oppress or hinder spiritual growth and that you are contributing to the world. Most importantly, no one is greater than God, despite what people do and say.

As I mentioned earlier, my mama and step dad got a divorce (I just turned 11). What a bittersweet situation! However, my mama went on with her life and even obtained a Master’s in Social Work. Years later, my step dad later regretted everything he did, yet a little too late. My step dad started to be a father to myself and my sister and brother, but, again, a little too late.

My family went through tough times when my step dad and mama divorced. You just don’t imagine things like this happening when someone divorces, but it does happen, which is one of the many reasons why I later became an advocate for children, families and survivors of abuse and domestic violence. Plus, my mama, a social worker all of my life, was a significant influence in my life.

My mama was not too financial savvy and budgeting was not her thing. Ironically, my mama solicited my help in creating budgeting and helping her balance her funds each month to pay bills. (Yes, you heard right, my help at a very young age; I had to be 10 or 11).

Well, I become very effective and knowledgeable at budgeting and making financial sense out of something. My mama had very limited funds; she was a single parent raising three children on her own on a social worker’s income. Enough said.

I am not sure if you know what a social worker’s salary would be, but they do not make lots of money, especially in the 80s; my mother’s first job was as a state CPS worker, she made approximately 19K a year until she changed jobs and made slightly more, i.e., 25K to 28K a year.

Despite helping others, my mama faced her own crisis (specifically, a financial crisis), but she got through her financial crisis. What my mama went through reminds me no one is immune from crisis. We all will have a crisis at some point in our lives. My mama handled it well.

Around my 12th birthday, my grandpa died. It would become a defining, unexpected event for my family. How he died would be just as traumatic for my family as well.

Every Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday, my grandma and grandpa would visit our home. We would have family talent nights (singing, performing comedy and anything funny).

Christmas 1990, my grandpa did not come. He wanted to stay in Macon with his twin sister. My grandpa came from a large family, being one of 14 children with a twin sister.

His twin sister received a devastating diagnosis that she had breast cancer. The doctor gave her approximately 6 months to live. So, he stayed in Macon to be with her. My grandma came alone to our home for the holidays and left after the New Year holiday.

Once she arrived back in Macon, my grandpa appeared to be deep in mourning. On a regular day, my grandpa would start my grandma’s car in the morning and make her coffee. That morning, he did not.

As my grandma left for work, under the impression my grandpa worked long hours from the day before and was asleep, my uncle later found my grandpa dead. When the doctors performed an autopsy, they determined my grandfather died naturally in his sleep (and as old folks say, he died of a broken heart such as grieving for his twin sister).

Even more interesting is that my grandpa’s twin sister died on the day of his funeral. On the day of my grandpa’s funeral, I also saddened by his lost.

He loved him some Bernice. I was the first grandbaby. I loved my grandpa. He was a fun, loving individual, despite his alcoholism.

I recalled that my mama said that I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. I don’t remember that, but, again, that is what my mama told me.

My uncle never got over the death. Being my uncle found my grandpa, my uncle began spiraling out of control (with drugs, alcohol and never addressing those issues).

[You see my family never liked addressing issues, no matter if it was through a counselor, pastor or doctor; it was like the ‘elephant in the room syndrome.’ No one wanted to say anything about the elephant in the room, even though everyone saw the elephant in the room.

I am one of few people who would observe this and would address issues. Essentially, I wouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room. My philosophy was in its due time, you must comfort things via talking and working through things in healthy ways and holding one’s self accountable and others accountable, which is much healthier than arguing and destroying your life.]

As I got older, I really missed my grandpa. I saw other children with their grandfathers and I knew I seemingly missed out on time with my grandpa. I eventually worked through my issues in missing my grandpa.

As for my grandma, she worked through the issues as well and even found herself much healthier than before. She even completed her bachelor’s degree, which is what my grandpa wanted her to do for many years.

As my high school years approached, I continued to mature and grow up. Not being the most popular student in the school, I considered myself a band nerd, an honor student and one of those people other students made fun of.

Also, commonplace for me involved being the victim of bullies, yet not by choice. However, my intelligence paid off years later, as I excelled in life, my career and had overall success later in life.

I got my first job at 16. I worked at a donut shop as counter help/donut maker. This job came as a result of DECA in high school. I loved DECA.

Also, I had another classmate, John, who got a job there. So, he put in a good word and I got the job. While this job may not be anything to anyone, it meant a lot to me.

The owner was nice and showed me how to make donuts and other pastries. The shop also sold food, so I learned to make food. This was a fun, first job experience.

Sometimes, I woke up 5 am on weekends to go to work and make donuts. My mama drove me to work on the weekends. On weekdays after school, my mama worked, so I walked to work.

I later started riding my bike to work, as a creepy man in a car asked me if I wanted a ride when I walked to work. Every day, he did this, so I began taking different routes walking to work. I told my family and they gave me mace or pepper spray (I can’t remember which one), and my mother would pick me up from work.

Despite this, I went to work. I loved the job. It was fun.

My mama did not like me working at the donut shop because John worked there. She stated that John and his family had serious issues. She would not explain what issues, but later I learned that John’s father went to prison for killing someone.

Also, John’s mother was not functional at that time and John and his siblings stayed with his grandparents who also did not properly care for John and his siblings. I did not care about that, since John was a good person. My mother came around to the idea that John was my friend, since she saw that he was trying to pull his life together and was nice.

Anyhow, John and I would do silly stuff, on and off the job. Sometimes, he would walk with me to work since he heard about this creepy guy following me to work. Well, when he would walk with me, we would do juvenile stuff and we would have some interesting encounters with people and situations.

Like one time, we were walking to work and there was a person who ran to an outdoor gas station restroom. As we passed by the restroom, there was an interesting crowd of people. Apparently, the gas station attendants were cleaning up mess from that person who ran into the restroom.

Well, if you can’t imagine what I am saying, let me paint a picture for you. In a matter of minutes (I mean about 5 to 10 minutes), John and I checked to see what happened in the restroom. When I walked into the restroom, it looked like a cow exploded. Human feces were on the walls, floors, and toilet. The sight was enough to make a person hurl. It was funny in a way but not. It was nasty!

Even though I had funny and interesting childhood experiences, I still endured a lot. My mama never treated me the same as my younger siblings, but I was no easy child for my mama, either. I was the oldest out of my mama’s children. She was harder on me. I later figured out why.

When she received child support from my step dad, she would buy my sister and brother Reebok, Nike, Adidas or other name brand shoes or clothing. I got the Payless shoes. My mama stated it was because she received support for it and had to buy things for my sister and brother with my step dad’s support money. To make up for this, my grandma and my uncles would buy me things that were name brand.

But, the bright side to things was that my mother allowed me to have my own room. She stated that I was more responsible and cared for my things better. When my sister and brother would not clean their room, my mother would make me clean it. Her reasoning: because I cleaned better than they did and I needed to show them how to do it right. I told her I show them all the time and they still don’t get it.

Well, my mother stated to continue to do it for them, and they will get it. She was right. They did.

Later in life, my mama stated neither myself nor my sister and my brother were problems for her. She acknowledged that we were good children and each of us had our own personality.

When I got older, she stated that my little sister and brother looked up to me, and if I lead, they will follow. She stated she wanted me to be independent and strong, so the things she made me do was to make me stronger, since I did not have a father. I later (in my adult years) learned what she meant and why she stated it to me.

As for my biological father, as I stated before, I thought my step dad was my real dad. But, he was not. I guess no one wanted to break my heart to tell me otherwise. After my mama divorced my step dad and I realized he was not my father, I began asking about my real father. My mother and her college friends explained to me that my real father did not claim me as his child (he thought my mama cheated on him).

My mama and her friends even went to court to prove paternity, but back then there were no DNA tests available. So, the mother had to get at least two or more witnesses to attest there was a sexual relationship between her and the alleged father.

Like those old, outdated court processes, all my father had to do is cast doubt that he was not the sole person to be intimate with my mother. So, he lied and stated my mother cheated on him. I am not sure if he wanted to avoid paying support or something else.

I do not know much information on their relationship before me. All I knew was that my mama and my real father met on a local U.S. Air Force base, where my mama would work during the summer months. My real father was a first-degree black belt and taught karate at the college they attended too.

They dated for some time and both graduated